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Broken Government

New Bank Leak Shows How Rich Exploit Tax Haven Loopholes

July 9th 2014

Mel Gibson mug shot

The identities of thousands of wealthy offshore clients of a major Channel Isles private bank have been leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The individuals include donors to the British government, which has been outspoken against tax havens, and some of the most prominent people in British life.

The ICIJ has exclusively allowed The Guardian newspaper to analyze more than 20,000 of the names, all of whom had dealings with a discreet Jersey, Channel Islands branch of Kleinwort Benson, a famous London firm which specializes in “wealth management.”

In the interests of transparency, ICIJ and The Guardian will publish some of their findings over the coming days, detailing the offshore links of political donors; international celebrities; judges; sportsmen; businessmen; and British aristocrats.

Names range from vacuum cleaner tycoon James Dyson to Hollywood actor Mel Gibson. Today The Guardian identifies party donors who over the years have paid more than £8m to the governing Conservative party.

One of the recipients of donations is Britain’s newly-promoted financial services minister, Andrea Leadsom, who has run into a “Cash for Office” allegation after she told The Guardian she was unaware of the size of large offshore  donations to the Conservatives made by her own  family.

The ICIJ has previously published secret internal records of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands. ICIJ director, Gerard Ryle, said: “We make this information available not because what we found is illegal but because we think most people would think it unfair. Tax havens allow some people to play by different rules.”  Read more ..


America on Edge

America and the Inevitability of Foreign Entanglements

July 8th 2014

Click to select Image

The Fourth of July weekend gave me time to consider events in Iraq and Ukraine, U.S.-German relations and the Mexican borderland and immigration. I did so in the context of the founding of the United States, asking myself if America has strayed from the founders' intent with regard to foreign policy. Many people note Thomas Jefferson's warning that the United States should pursue "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none," taking that as the defining strategy of the founders. I think it is better to say that was the defining wish of the founders but not one that they practiced to extremes.

As we know, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to decrease U.S. entanglements in the world. Ironically, many on the right want to do the same. Read more ..


Broken Government

Obama 'One Step Behind' Illegal Immigrant Surge, says Texas Democrat

July 6th 2014

Obama pensive with flag

The Obama administration has botched its response to the wave of migrants flooding the southern border, a Texas Democrat charged Sunday.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), a Blue Dog Democrat who represents a border district, said the administration simply failed to anticipate a predictable crisis and remains "one step behind" in addressing it.

"We should have been ready for this surge, the administration should have been ready," Cuellar said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "With all respect to the administration, they're one step behind. They should have seen this coming a long time ago … because we saw those numbers increasing."

In the month of May, law enforcers apprehended roughly 48,000 migrants along the Texas border alone, 9,700 of them children unaccompanied by an adult, Cuellar said. The wave has overwhelmed the law enforcers, courts, detention centers and healthcare agencies attempting to manage it. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

How Iran Could Help Iraq Fight ISIL

July 5th 2014

Iran's Revolutionary Guard

To help Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government battle militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Iran could potentially offer significant assistance through its powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reportedly has been active in Iraq during the past decade, analysts say.

What Can Iran Offer?
Afshon Ostovar, a Middle East analyst with the nonprofit Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), believes Iranian military assistance to Iraq would likely focus on several areas: advising, training, planning and coordination; information and intelligence; and supplying military materiel. "I suspect whatever assistance Iran provides at this time will be limited to these areas and kept mostly behind the scenes," Ostovar says.

Light Footprint
Geneva-based researcher Farzan Sabet says Iran is likely to deny any military involvement in Iraq, even in the face of credible reports. Sabet says Iran's preference for "a light footprint" has been confirmed on a number of occasions since its 1979 Islamic revolution. Read more ..


Broken Business

Giant Corporations, Giant Failures

July 4th 2014

Click to select Image

General Motors recently released the report it commissioned from the huge Jenner & Block law firm. The latter's chairman, Anton Valukas, investigated how and why GM failed - for over 10 years - to recall cars it produced while knowing they had defective ignition switches. The eventual recall of 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalt cars in February, 2014, followed 13 deaths GM linked to those defective switches (many others were injured, and government officials believe there were more fatalities).

GM's chief executive, Mary Barra, admitted publicly this April what Valukas wrote in his report: GM failed systematically to identify, take responsibility for, and act properly in the face of life-threatening defects in millions of automobiles it sold since 2002. On June 16, 2014, GM recalled an additional 3.16 million defective vehicles across seven of its models. GM's total recalls in North America so far this year exceed 20 million vehicles.

Read more ..

The Caliphate

Understanding the Caliphate of Damascus

July 3rd 2014

Iraq ISIL pistol standoff

The Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has changed its name, but otherwise the militant group remains the same. Over the past weekend, a spokesman for the group announced that it had established a caliphate stretching from Diyala province, Iraq, to Aleppo, Syria. The caliphate is a political institution that the Islamic State claims will govern the global Muslim community. "Iraq" and "Levant" have been dropped from the organization's name to reflect its new status.

The trouble with the announcement is that the Islamic State does not have a caliphate and probably never will. No amount of new monikers will change the fact that geography, political ideology and religious, cultural and ethnic differences will prevent the emergence of a singular polity capable of ruling the greater Middle East.

Read more ..

The Caliphate

The Sunni Ramadan Offensive and the Lessons of Tet

July 1st 2014

US Attack Helicopters

In February 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong launched a general offensive in Vietnam during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. From mid-1966 onward, the North Vietnamese had found themselves under increasing pressure from American and South Vietnamese forces. They were far from defeated, but they were weakening and the likelihood of their military victory was receding. The North Vietnamese decided to reverse the course of the war militarily and politically by marshaling available forces, retaining only limited reserves and going on the offensive throughout South Vietnam.

The attack had three strategic purposes. First, the North Vietnamese wanted to trigger a general uprising against the Americans and the South Vietnamese government. Second, they wanted to move the insurgency to the next stage by seizing and holding significant territory and resisting counterattack. And third, they wanted to destabilize their enemy psychologically by demonstrating that intelligence reports indicating their increasing weakness were wrong. They also wanted to impose casualties on the Americans at an unprecedented rate. The American metric in the war was the body count; increasing the body count dramatically would therefore create a crisis of confidence in the U.S. public and within the military and intelligence community. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Real War on Women

June 30th 2014

Brain Waves

In April, the “equal pay debate” was the opening salvo for politicians seeking women voters in the midterms. It set off a firestorm. The claim that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men was quickly countered with evidence that the wage gap is primarily driven by choices, not discrimination. Women earn 97 percent of what men earn when they hold the same jobs, work the same hours and have the same qualifications and experience, according to a study by June O’Neill.

But, of course, most women don’t. In this way, both sides missed the bigger issue facing women – why women continue to choose worse jobs with worse pay. Despite women’s astounding progress in the labor force, women are twice as likely as men to work part time. Women represent nearly two-thirds of workers (64 percent) earning the minimum wage or less. In 21st century America, women are disproportionately secretaries, maids, nurses and teachers, while the head honchos in business, finance, law, medicine, academia and government are still mostly men. (Consider that women represent only 4.8 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs, even though they comprise half of all managerial positions). Read more ..


Broken Economy

How the Narrative About the Financial Crisis Affects Current and Future Housing Policy

June 28th 2014

Home Foreclosure

The narrative that came out of the financial crisis was that it could have been prevented by better regulation. If the regulators had been diligent enough to see the build-up of risk in the mortgage system—the large number of subprime and Alt-A loans—they could have stepped in, closed down the subprime lending process and saved us all a lot of losses. But Wall Street greed and risk-taking were allowed to run wild, causing a financial crisis. This is essentially the conclusion of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (from which I dissented) and it is the basis for the reforms implemented by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. It is also a fantasy.

Yes, of course, if the regulators had been astute enough to see what was happening in the mortgage markets in 2005 and 2006, and understood that this was the beginning of an unprecedented collapse of housing and mortgage values, they could have acted. But with the exception of a handful of market players—like John Paulson—who made lucky speculative bets, no one knew the essential facts about the mortgage market and no one published a predicted decline in housing prices in the range of 30 to 40 percent. I dare say few if any of those who are reading this today can honestly say that they sold off all their housing and mortgage assets in 2005 or 2006 because they could see the disaster coming. Read more ..


War on Drugs

War on Narcoterrorists Sees Some Success in Mexico and Colombia

June 26th 2014

Burning bales of cannabis in Mexico

The Mexican drug war has been punctuated by police success in arresting high-profile narcotics traffickers. Last February, the arrest of elusive figure Joaquin El Chapo (Shorty), head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, made international headlines and heightened the morale of both Mexican and U.S. authorities. Nevertheless, for many Mexican citizens, there is significant doubt that El Chapo’s arrest will have a substantial detrimental impact on the operations of the Sinaloa cartel, or on the brimming inventory of other drug traffickers that continue to wreak havoc in Mexico. The organizations have proven to be a force as relentless as the mythological hydra; chop off the head, and two more grow back in its place. Read more ..


Economic Jihad

The Role of Antisemitism in the Presbyterian Church (USA)´s Decision to Support Divestment

June 25th 2014

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is a main advocate within the church on behalf of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), whose goal is to delegitimize the State of Israel leading to that country’s dissolution. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is also an advocate for BDS.

Click here to read
the full report
.

Our report produces clear evidence of a strong undercurrent of overt anti-Jewish bigotry within the IPMN as expressed on the group’s Facebook page.

Numerous postings uploaded to this site by IPMN members over a period of two years demonstrate an ongoing pattern of expressions of antisemitism, including: Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Legalists to UN Head Moon: "Retract all Acceptance of PA to the UN"

June 24th 2014

UN HQ NYC

The Legal Forum for Israel, a body representing hundreds of lawyers and jurists from various countries, has sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon last week demanding that he retract all acceptance within the UN of the Palestinian Authority and  reject the Palestinian request to accede to international conventions.

Relating to the abduction of the three boys form Gush Etzion, author of the letter Alan Baker, former legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, former ambassador to Canada and Director of the International Action Division of the Legal Forum for Israel, writes: "We are, first and foremost, at the time of writing this letter, most distressed at the tragic situation in which one or more Palestinian terror groups, affiliated to what you and the UN regard as the “State of Palestine”, considered to be a non-member state observer in the UN, have taken three Israeli youths hostage, in clear violation of all basic humanitarian norms and conventions. Read more ..


Broken Government

A New Strategy for Corporate Tax Reform

June 22nd 2014

Congress-senate

Last Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan proposed to cut the Japanese corporate tax rate from 36 percent to below 30 percent. This is the latest step on a journey that began on April 1st 2012 when the government set in motion a series of rate cuts - from 41 percent to 38 percent to today's 36 percent. In 2013, both major parties in Japan agreed to accelerate the timetable for the cuts. Today Japan may be ready to double down.

Over the last two years, Abe and the rest of the Japanese government have driven their corporate rate from the highest in the developed world towards the average for developed countries, which hovers around 25 percent.

These reforms are taking place despite Japan's crippling public debt and the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Through creative policy-making - Japan has raised its national sales tax from 5 to 8 percent to replace revenue - and an eye towards making Japan a friendlier place for investment, the government has enacted a policy that will almost certainly strengthen Japan's economy. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target

June 19th 2014

King Abdullah

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, buoyed by its recent successes in Iraq, wants to expand its regional reach. Reports that Iraq has withdrawn forces from western towns close to its 180-kilometer (110-mile) border with Jordan have left Amman feeling vulnerable, and the Hashemite kingdom, certainly a target of interest for the jihadist movement, has deployed additional security personnel along the border.

However, taking on Jordan would be tough for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The group has the ability to stage terrorist attacks in the country, but significant constraints will prevent it from operating on the levels seen in Iraq and Syria.

The June 15 edition of the Jordan Times reported that Amman had beefed up security along its border with Iraq amid fears that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is inching toward the kingdom. Quoting unnamed Islamist sources, the report added that the jihadist group had established a branch within the kingdom as part of its plans to create a regional emirate.

Read more ..

The Battle for Damascus

Next Stop for ISIL Jihadis: Jordan

June 19th 2014

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, buoyed by its recent successes in Iraq, wants to expand its regional reach. Reports that Iraq has withdrawn forces from western towns close to its 180-kilometer (110-mile) border with Jordan have left Amman feeling vulnerable, and the Hashemite kingdom, certainly a target of interest for the jihadist movement, has deployed additional security personnel along the border.

However, taking on Jordan would be tough for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The group has the ability to stage terrorist attacks in the country, but significant constraints will prevent it from operating on the levels seen in Iraq and Syria. Read more ..


The US on Edge

Time to Challenge US Assumptions About Terrorism, Security, and Iraq

June 17th 2014

ISIL militants and flags

The fall of Mosul shocked Iraqis and Americans alike. In less than 48 hours, insurgents seized thousands of square miles of territory, hundreds of millions of dollars, and placed millions of people under their control.  The Iraqi army is in tatters, terrorists are on the march, and Iran is poised to intervene. Clearly, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq has not brought the peace which the White House promised.

Historians will judge the wisdom of George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein, but the situation Iraq currently faces was not inevitable. Rather than use the uprising as fodder for partisan mudslinging, the insurgent march through northern Iraq should be cause for reflection about core U.S. assumptions about terrorism, security, and Iraq itself: Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

ISIS Rampages, the Middle East Shakes

June 16th 2014

Iraqi prisoners of ISIL

The jihadis' takeover of Mosul on June 9 won them control of Iraq's second-largest city, a major haul of weapons, $429 million in gold, and an open path to conquer Tikrit, Samarra, and perhaps the capital city of Baghdad. The Iraqi Kurds have seizedKirkuk. This is the most important event in the Middle East since the Arab upheavals began in 2010. Here's why:

Regional threat: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a designated terror group, is in a position to overthrow the governments of Iraq and Syria and perhaps beyond, starting with Jordan. Straddling the Iraq-Syria frontier, it may both erase the nearly century-old border between these two colonial creations and end their existence as unitary states, thereby overturning the Middle Eastern political order as it emerged from World War I. Rightly does the U.S. government call ISIS "a threat to the entire region. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Eric Cantor Was Defeated for Breaking One Old Rule and Two Newer Ones

June 14th 2014

Eric Cantor (R)

It’s not often that something almost universally unexpected happens in American politics. Frequent public opinion polls and a variety of political media usually give political junkies a good idea of what to expect next.

But not Tuesday, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in the Republican primary in the 7th congressional district of Virginia by Randolph-Macon College professor Dave Brat.

Cantor raised more than $5 million in campaign funds, Brat just over $200,000. But much of Cantor’s money was slated for House Republican colleagues, and Brat got vocal support — worth many times the amount he raised in a Republican primary — from talk show hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and columnist Ann Coulter.

It's tempting to classify this as a victory for the Tea Party movement over the Republican establishment. Cantor entered the race as the No. 2 member of the House Republican leadership, and Brat pursued some Tea Party themes (though without support from major Tea Party organizations), decrying the vast expansion of government not only under President Obama but also in the George W. Bush years.

But those are not the main lessons of this astonishing upset. One of those lessons is very old, an eternal maxim of politics. Another is familiar, a variation on a theme heard before. The third is relatively new, and perhaps points to a winning campaign theme for Republicans — or their opponents. The old lesson is: Show up. Voters like to see their elected representatives, even when they have ascended the ranks of committee and leadership positions in Washington. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Deterioration of Iraq Threatens Security of the Mideast

June 12th 2014

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies.

The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.

Analysis

Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

We Need a New Compromise to Break the Climate Negotiations Impasse

June 10th 2014

Smokestacks

As one who brings students to observe and report on the United Nations negotiations on climate change and who would like to see those negotiations succeed, it is easy to be discouraged at the snail’s pace of progress. The big promised outcome of “preventing dangerous climate change,” agreed to by 195 countries in the 1992 Framework Convention (UNFCCC), has not been met by any measure 22 years later. In the end, the UNFCCC is the only global group of nations that can make binding commitments to solve this problem.

Still, another approach is clearly needed. In our paper released in Nature Climate Change this week (and first released as a Brookings policy brief), Marco Grasso and I argue that we could take four steps to break the impasse.

1. A much smaller group of nations should strike a deal.  We propose that the “Major Economies Forum” (MEF), which with 13 economies is responsible for 81 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990, would be an excellent forum for such negotiation. Other smaller groups like the G-7, G-20 or even the G-2 of the United States and China could make a deal, and by doing so could inspire action by many other countries that are waiting for these two to move. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Amazon Losing PR Battle With Hachette

June 9th 2014

Amazon box

The dispute between Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and publisher Hachette has somehow grown into an epic saga pitting the forces of literary light against the dark lord of the Internet.
 
As if that wasn't bad enough for public relations, comedian Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, is leading the army of the literary light. He literally gave the finger to Amazon on his show last week.

This army needs no weapons but words, and it's got a million of them. n purely financial terms, book publishing isn't a major industry, and Amazon diversified out of that niche a long time ago. Doesn't matter.

The controversy began when negotiations between Amazon and Hachette broke down. No one but the principals know why, but the general assumption is that Amazon demanded price concessions from Hachette, and Hachette refused. Read more ..


China on Edge

Without Drastic Changes, China Could Become Japan

June 9th 2014

Pollution Made in China

Front page news concerning Chinese economic weakness and accusations of large-scale cyber-espionage against the U.S. both involve the capacity to innovate. Cyber-stealing other people's knowledge, rather than developing it yourself, helps right away but discourages the innovation at home that can contribute to national wealth for the long term.

Vice-President Biden repeated last week that he believes China doesn't innovate, which is an oversimplification. It is true, though, that China still relies almost entirely on foreign technology. Becoming a truly innovative nation is the key to China eventually becoming a rich one, since its other sources of growth are slipping away. And at the moment, the outlook is dim.

The economy has been weakening and may continue to weaken. Natural resources are inadequate, the population is aging, and the country is starting to sink into debt. China in 2014? Yes, also Japan in 1994. The conclusion many observers drew then was that Japan had to sharply boost innovation to renew economic expansion. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt After the Election: Advancing the Strategic Relationship

June 8th 2014

2012 Egyptian Elections

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's apparent victory in Egypt's presidential election this week marks the beginning of a new chapter for his country, though not necessarily the end of its political and economic turmoil. The past three years have not only left Egypt gripped by domestic troubles and economic malaise, they have also resulted in further deterioration of bilateral relations. Cairo has looked inward, immune to advice or influence, while Washington has looked on in bewilderment. Although American officials continue to describe relations with Egypt as "strategic," they have in fact become transactional, with one side trading its immediate needs for the other's: the United States needs a stable and cooperative Israeli-Egyptian relationship and preferential access to the Suez Canal, while Egypt needs military hardware and international recognition. Paradoxically, Egypt has had the upper hand in the relationship despite its troubles, mainly because it believes it can turn to others to meet its needs in the short run -- Russia for military equipment, the Persian Gulf states for aid, and the international community for validation. Washington, in contrast, has no geopolitical substitute for Egypt. Read more ..


The Environment on Edge

One Small Step (Cough) for Clean Air

June 7th 2014

Smokestacks

When the unlikely duo of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and four other justices recently upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to require states to control interstate air pollution, it marked a small victory for clean air.  The support from both liberal and conservative justices should also send a strong signal for needed bipartisan cooperation to remove three critical chokepoints that Congress built into the Clean Air Act 44-years ago.  The chokepoints shorten the life span of the average American by a half year and increase the costs that we will bear to control pollution, including the controls on greenhouse gases that are currently underway.

While the statute dates back to 1970, the litigation began in 2005 when President George W. Bush’s EPA mandated the states to control interstate pollution. A lower court sent this mandate back to the agency and President Barack Obama’s EPA issued a revised mandate in 2011. After a lower court struck it down, the Supreme Court upheld it, but the high court could not remove the remaining chokepoints that Congress built into the original statute. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Australia Drops the Word 'Occupied' from References to Israeli settlements

June 5th 2014

Sydney Opera House

The Abbott government has ruled out using the term "occupied" when describing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, prompting suggestions about a shift in Australia's foreign policy.

The government on Thursday delivered a statement to clarify its stand on the controversial question of the legality of settlements after the issued flared up at a Senate hearing the night before.

The attorney general, George Brandis, on behalf of the minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, said it was "unhelpful" to refer to historic events when describing these areas, given the ongoing Middle East peace process.

"The description of East Jerusalem as 'occupied' East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful," Brandis told a Senate estimates hearing. Read more ..


EU on Edge

Ambiguous Results of European Parliamentary Elections

June 2nd 2014

Anti-establishment parties from both the left and the right won big in the 28-nation European Parliament elections that ended on May 25.

Riding a wave of voter discontent over the existing political order in Europe, the electoral victories—especially those by euro-skeptic politicians in major EU countries such as Britain, France and Germany—mark a clear turning point in the debate over the future of the European Union.

The surge of anti-EU parties represents an important blow to the legitimacy of plans by the European establishment to transform the continent into a United States of Europe. Read more ..


Broken Government

Highway Robbery on the High Seas

May 30th 2014

Cargo Ship

It's no secret that special interests regularly shape policy in Washington, costing taxpayers money and sacrificing honest policy debate to reward particular industries. The most recent example comes in the form of two objectionable provisions slipped into the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, recently passed by the House and now in committee in the Senate. The passage of this bill with these sections would not only divert scarce U.S. food-aid resources toward a handful of cargo-ship owners and away from the 2 million or so hungry people abroad, but would also foreclose future public debate on the issue.

Using food-aid funds to support the maritime industry is so ridiculous that Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" satirized the idea this past fall. Yet the maritime industry seeks to take advantage of the fact that this bill routinely passes Congress with little attention, and often by a voice vote, by inserting two sections aimed at protecting their interests. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Russia, China, and Iran: American Nuclear Nightmares

May 29th 2014

Fifty years ago, the CIA produced a Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on China's nuclear weapons program for President Lyndon Johnson. Overhead photography taken three weeks earlier revealed that a Chinese installation in Lop Nor was definitively a nuclear test site and would come online in two months. However, the CIA estimated, China would not have the necessary amount of fissionable material, which the United States assumed would come from a small plutonium reactor at Baotou, until mid-1965.

Seeking to make sense of the conflicting timelines, the CIA began to speculate: perhaps the Soviets had transferred additional fissionable material, perhaps the CIA was unaware of other enrichment sites, or, perhaps, as is often the case in large undertakings, progress among the different elements of China's nuclear program had merely become uneven. In conclusion, the SNIE reads, the available facts "do not permit a very confident estimate of the chances of a Chinese Communist nuclear detonation in the next few months. Clearly the possibility of such a detonation before the end of the year cannot be ruled out—the test may occur during this period. On balance, however, we believe that it will not occur until sometime after the end of 1964." Seven weeks later, China tested its first nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964, a highly enriched uranium implosion device. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

5 Myths About US Troops in Afghanistan

May 28th 2014

US 10 MT departing

Troops don’t matter. The Afghan “surge” didn’t work so there’s no reason to keep many US troops there. The Afghan “surge” actually did work—as far as it was allowed to. Although violence levels remained high (unlike in Iraq, where they plummeted), the partial surge President Obama authorized in 2009 took back Helmand and Kandahar Provinces from Taliban domination. Afghan troops have held on to most of the key gains in that critical area with much more limited assistance. But Obama called the surge home before it could shift to the east, as was planned and required. The Afghan surge demonstrated quite clearly how important US troops can be.

Al Qaeda is “on the ropes.” No, it just isn’t. Al Qaeda affiliates have grown dramatically in reach, strength, combat power, and territory controlled. Most notably, the al Qaeda franchise in Iraq rebounded from near-defeat in 2011 to a force that now controls significant areas in Iraq while also operating in Syria. Bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, continues to mediate between dueling al Qaeda franchises in Syria from his hideout in Pakistan. He’s certainly not too busy running from us to concern himself with such matters. Read more ..


Europe on Edge

Jewish Groups Concerned Over Far-Right Surge in European Union Parliamentary Elections

May 27th 2014

Golden Dawn - Greece

Jewish groups expressed concern on Monday over the surge in support for far-right parties in the European Union’s parliamentary elections, with fears that hate speech will now feature more prominently in European politics.

On Monday, the EU said that of the 751 seats, the center-right European People’s Party won 214, followed by the center-left Socialists and Democrats with 189, while the far-right parties surged to win a combined 36 seats, giving them enough weight to influence debate and decision making in the EU body.

France’s National Front won 25 seats, Hungary’s notorious Jobbik party won four seats, Greece’s Golden Dawn, under criminal investigation and with several party leaders in prison, entered the European Parliament for the first time, with an expected three seats, and the far-right FPÖ in Austria won four seats. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

The Ideology of Militant Islamism in Southeastern Europe

May 26th 2014

Chechen jihadis

Since the fall of communism two and a half decades ago, militant Islamism has been planting seeds and spreading roots in various parts of southeastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia. With the help of local allies, militant Islamists have established training bases, recruiting stations, and safe-havens for would-be terrorists and terrorists on the run. The extent of the problem became obvious when the late Richard Holbrooke noted that “if it had not been for the Dayton Peace Accords, 9/11 would probably have been planned in Bosnia, not in Afghanistan.” Indeed, almost every major terrorist action of the recent past has roots or connections to the Balkans.

Given the Balkans’ emergence as a new front for militant Islamists, understanding the ideology and beliefs driving the movement has become important for western security interests, and for the ramifications they may have on plans to integrate the region into Euro-Atlantic political and economic structures. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

What You Need to Know About Amazon Bullying of Book Industry

May 25th 2014

Amazon box

The real economic story behind that lovely fight that’s going on between Amazon and Hachette that is. What we’re really seeing is a battle between the people who make the product and the people who distribute it as to who should be getting the economic surplus that the consumer is willing to hand over. Like all such fights it’s both brutal and petty. Amazon is apparently delaying shipment of Hachette produced books, insisting that some upcoming ones won’t be available and so on. Hachette is complaining very loudly about what Amazon is doing, entirely naturally. The bigger question is what should we do, if anything, about it? To which the answer is almost certainly let them fight it out and see who wins.

The detail of who is doing what to whom is well laid out in the WSJ here: In the wake of the federal government’s e-book antitrust pricing settlement with publishers, publishers supply e-books to retailers at a price set by the publishers but which retailers are able to discount.

Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Misplaced Optimism Over Iran

May 24th 2014

Hassan Rowhani

When Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran’s president in June 2013, you could hear the sighs of relief in Washington, in Brussels, at U.N. Headquarters, and across key European capitals. Finally, we were told, the terrorism-supporting, human rights-abusing, Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had left the political stage. Finally, a moderate, rational leader with whom we could conduct business was in power. Finally, there was a real chance of securing an enduring deal to thwart Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

Almost a year later, we’re still hearing that refrain, thanks to the optimism that the new round of talks on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, inaugurated by the Joint Plan of Action agreed by the Tehran regime and world powers last November, continues to generate. Iran’s own foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has spoken warmly of the “unexpectedly fast pace of progress in the negotiations so far,” even offering the reassurance that his government is keen to avoid the perception that it is seeking to weaponize the nuclear program.

Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

The Costs Of Russia's Ukraine 'Victory'

May 22nd 2014

putin

Russia's aggressive policies in Ukraine since the fall of 2013 have resulted in some remarkable gains for Moscow.

Kyiv's European-integration plans have been derailed. The strategically important Crimean Peninsula has been annexed.

And the destabilization caused by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine threatens to continue casting doubt over the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv and to give Moscow strong tools for further interference in Ukrainian affairs.

But the costs of these tactical victories could be steep -- even unbearable -- for Russian President Vladimir Putin's government if the West is able to come together in its response and to keep up the pressure into the long term.

"Russia has damaged itself on many levels," Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels, says. "There are only very few real partners and allies they still have left, and even the most hard-core defenders have now realized that Russia will probably never be the kind of partner that they thought Russia would be." Techau adds that Russia's international isolation as a result of Ukraine is likely to grow. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Better Health Care for the Poor

May 21st 2014

Obamacare

Healthcare reform has largely ignored the poor. The healthcare safety net has far too many holes, and the Affordable Care Act builds on a flawed system of health insurance. Lower income families, especially those enrolled in Medicaid, have a difficult time finding doctors who will accept their coverage. Insurance is of little value if doctors will not work with your insurer.

About one-third of physicians refuse to see new Medicaid patients. Referrals to specialists are especially difficult. In Washington State primary care physicians had 75 percent more problems obtaining a specialty referral for Medicaid patients than for those with commercial coverage.

States buy health services for the poor, but at less-than-market prices. According to the government’s health actuaries, Medicaid pays about 60 percent of what private insurers pay for medical care. Who can blame physicians for avoiding this kind of insurance? Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Borderlands: Hungary Maneuvers

May 20th 2014

Putin

I am writing this from Budapest, the city in which I was born. I went to the United States so young that all my memories of Hungary were acquired later in life or through my family, whose memories bridged both world wars and the Cold War, all with their attendant horrors. My own deepest memory of Hungary comes from my parents' living room in the Bronx. My older sister was married in November 1956. There was an uprising against the Soviets at the same time, and many of our family members were still there. After the wedding, we returned home and saw the early newspapers and reports on television. My parents discovered that some of the heaviest fighting between the revolutionaries and Soviets had taken place on the street where my aunts lived. A joyous marriage, followed by another catastrophe -- the contrast between America and Hungary. That night, my father asked no one in particular, "Does it ever end?" The answer is no, not here. Which is why I am back in Budapest. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Wars Within Wars

May 19th 2014

Syrian Fighters w/RPGs

With Syrian presidential elections scheduled for June, the incumbent and shoo-in for reelection, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is campaigning on the promise that 2014 will be the year in which military operations in Syria end. However, the situation in northern Syria, exemplified by the conflict in the canton of Kobani, an area stretching from the Turkish border to south of Kobani city, and from Tell Abyad in the east to Jarabulus in the west, casts doubt on Assad’s optimism.

Kobani is under Kurdish control, but cuts into a larger section of territory controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a jihadist organization. ISIS aims to hold a clear, contiguous area stretching from Syria’s border with Turkey into western Iraq, where it controls territory in the provinces of Ninewah and Anbar. The existence of the Kurdish canton of Kobani interferes with this plan, and since March ISIS has launched daily attacks against positions held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) at the edges of the enclave. The Kobani situation offers a window into the Syrian conflict, a fragmented reality where in large parts of the country the regime is little more than a memory, and well-organized rival militias representing starkly different political projects are clashing. Last month, I traveled to the Kobani enclave, entering from the Turkish border with Kurdish smugglers. The road was short but perilous—a sprint toward the border fence in the dark and a rapid, fumbling climb over it. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

How American Doctors Lost their Professional Autonomy

May 18th 2014

heart patient hospital doctor health

About the same time that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was botching the rollout of healthcare.gov, the agency also announced its successful creation of two mobile apps designed to help doctors keep track the stuff they get from drug makers. It lets doctors electronically tabulate (and report to the Feds) each consulting fee, pen, and jelly doughnut that they receive, right on their iPhone.

The aim of this de rigueur is to help doctors comply with a new federal law passed as part of the Affordable Care Act. Starting this year, drug and medical device companies must report to CMS nearly every transaction they have with individual doctors and how much the physicians received. CMS will post the data on a searchable, public website that goes live September 2014. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Assad's Reelection Campaign Matters -- Really

May 17th 2014

Bashar Assad headshot

The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a "political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria's June 3 presidential poll, "hoping the parliament would endorse it."

This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and "spontaneous rallies" calling for him to run -- many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader. Read more ..


America on Edge

Overreaching on Campus Rape

May 14th 2014

university students and laptops

Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan recently declared, “Being terrible about rape appears as endemic to American high education as barfing on the quad.” Ryan had just heard the news that 55 American universities are facing federal Title IX investigations for possibly mishandling cases of sexual misconduct. Jezebel seems to think that the Department of Education (DOE) investigations are evidence of a sexual-assault epidemic and insidious “rape culture” plaguing our college campuses.

Actually, the investigations show no such thing. The DOE has made it clear that a college’s investigation “in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.” What the investigations actually reveal is just the beginning of the messy results of three years of federal overreach into campus rape policies. Read more ..



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